Sen. Cynthia Villar. SENATE PHOTO

President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday extolled the Villars for building a real estate empire from scratch as he lashed out anew at “oligarchs” who have controlled the Philippine economy for decades.

Speaking to lawmakers in Malacañan Palace after signing laws postponing next year’s village and youth elections, Duterte said he would rather “start from the beginning” with the Villars, and pull out of contracts with the Ayala and Pangilinan business groups, even at the risk of becoming a “pariah” in the international community.

“Villar started his housing at the sweat of his brow,” he said, referring to former Senate president Manuel Villar, who ran for president in 2010 but lost to Benigno Aquino III.

Villar’s wife, Cynthia, who topped the May 2019 Senate elections, was in attendance.

“Tumanda si Villar diyan sa trabaho na ‘yan, including Mrs. Villar the senator. Hirap ‘yang kanila,” the president said.

(Villar stayed long in the business, including Mrs. Villar the senator. They worked hard.)

Duterte has acknowledged the Villars as campaign supporters, and placed their son Mark on the Cabinet as public works secretary upon taking over Malacañang in 2016.

Manuel “Manny” Villar is among the country’s richest, with a net worth of $6.6 billion according to Forbes magazine.

In contrast, Duterte said, the Ayala group, one of the country’s oldest and most diversified conglomerates, did not pay income taxes on their water utility, Manila Water Co.

In a later speech, he said businessman Roberto Ongpin was among wealthy cronies who had enjoyed tax perks. Duterte in 2016 halted the online gaming business of Ongpin’s PhilWeb, and Ongpin was forced to sell his shares in the firm to Gregorio Araneta III, son in law of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Duterte accused Manila Water and Maynilad Water Services Inc., partly owned by the Manuel Pangilinan-led Metro Pacific Investments Corp., of raking in profits on lopsided concession contracts.

Manila Water and Maynilad also did not build water treatment facilities despite collecting money for years for such purpose, he claimed.

“Walang water treatment mga animal kayo. Mag-usap tayo ng — ‘pag hindi… Tag-isang sampal kayo sa akin. Maniwala kayo. Pat — patikim ko sa inyo. Pakita ko sa Pilipino paano mag-sampal ng mga milyonaryo, bilyonaryo. L**** kayo,” he said.

(There was no water treatment, you animals. Let’s talk — if not, I will slap each of you. Believe me. I will let you taste it. I will show Filipinos how to slap millionaires, billionaires.)

Duterte suggested that Manila Water won its P7.4-billion arbitration case against the government in Singapore because because the Ayala firm was in the same club as those on the arbitration panel.

Duterte took the opportunity to lambast ABS-CBN, the broadcast network of the Lopez family, for being the “mouthpiece” of the oligarch’s interests.

He claimed ABS-CBN profited from 2016 campaign ads that it did not air, including his and other politicians like ex-senator Chiz Escudero, now governor of Sorsogon.

“And you want us to bow down to your wealth and money and influence. Well not with this administration,” he said. (